If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I went to Oahu for my first time in 2016 for my birthday. Being from California, Hawaii is a popular destination spot that I was fortunate enough to visit frequently as a child. However, most of the time my family would go, we’d stay on Maui or the Big Island, so Oahu was very new and different for me. When Gav & I went a couple of years ago we had the best time, and turns out, a year after my brother ended up moving there to pursue photography (check out his instagram: @austinkipperphoto). I haven’t seen him since May of 2017 (almost a year! wahh) so my parents and I decided to go visit!
Hawaii truly is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. The rain forests, the gorgeous beaches, the wildlife (I love sea turtles!)… there is so much to see and explore. I know I’ve already posted an Oahu, Hawaii Guide before (see what to pack here), but this trip was so much different than the first one, I thought it deserved it’s own post! Below you can find out all about my favorite beaches, hikes, restaurants and more! I hope you enjoy and if you have any questions: I’m happy to answer all of them in the comments!
Where to Stay
As a big city girl, I would generally not choose Waikiki as my first choice, but as my brother lives in the city, I figured it would be a good time to check it out. Most people either love or hate Honolulu because it’s probably not what you expect when planning a Hawaiian getaway. All the buildings, hotels & restaurant chains – not the most tropical setting, but I personally didn’t mind it. There was so much going on and I actually enjoyed the hustle and bustle of it. Plus, if it got too hot or crowded, you could quickly change and head outside the city. Staying in the city ended up working out in our favor because it’s so centrally located that it was easier for us to get around the island. In less than one hour you can be almost everywhere on the island!
During our time on Oahu we were staying at The Outrigger Beach Resort since my brother works at the Blue Note, which is a local jazz club, originally founded in NYC, and happens to be located in our hotel. He had to work a couple of the days we were there, so it was fun to still have him close by so we could grab dinner together. They also have the Hula Grill, Duke’s, Chuck’s Steak House, and Pai’s Deli. We ate at both Duke’s and Pai’s (Pai’s is great if you’re just grabbing a quick bite for breakfast or lunch).
There’s also a hotel I’ve been wanting to stay at called the Royal Hawaiian Hotel or the Pink Palace of the Pacific. The hotel is very famous on Oahu and with it being all pink, I knew I had to stop in for at least a drink! The Royal Hawaiian also serves a great breakfast, get the pink velvet pancakes!
Other than those two hotels, and if you’re not looking to stay in the city, I recommend reserving an Air BnB. They are all over the island, so depending on where you want to spend your time, you can most likely find one in that area. Last time we stayed, we spent time on the West and North side of the island, and I think getting a place up North in the surfer town of Haliewa would be really awesome.
Where to Beach
One of the great things about Oahu is that there are so many different and unique beaches. I promise you, not one is the same as another. While we were here, we were able to visit about 7 different beaches and each is amazing in it’s own way. Below are some of my favorites and why I loved them:
Lanikai Beach is regularly voted as one of the best beaches in America and is the only beach in the USA that was voted as one of the best beaches in the world. Lanikai actually means “heavenly sea.” Lanikai Beach is popular because of the two islands in the background called Mokulua. Kayakers will often row out to land on the larger northern island, but no one is allowed to land on the southern island as it is a bird sanctuary. With extremely soft, clean white sand and water temperatures between 75–80 °F (24–26 °C) so you can spend plenty of time swimming or snorkeling.
Hanauma Bay is a nature preserve. Before entering the beach you will have to watch a short video that explains how to interact with the nature and how to treat the wildlife. The short time and additional fee of about $7 are totally worth it. It’s only 15 minutes from Honolulu and has some of the best snorkeling on the island.
On the East Coast of the Island we visited is Makapu’u beach. The beach is a little less crowded and you’re able to check out the great tide pools. Just be careful because during high tide, the waves can be a bit dangerous.
At the North shore I can recommend Sunset Beach where we actually BBQ’d dinner and enjoyed the sunset, Turtle Bay where turtles beach themselves up on the sand (very touristy but so worth it if you’re like me and love turtles!) and Waimea Bay for cliff jumping, which my brother and I got to do together.
If you’re heading up the West side of the island, I recommend Makua Beach. In my previous Oahu post you can see me swimming with turtles! I’ve also seen dolphins here as well. The great part about the West side is that it’s harder to get to and not much around, but the beaches are more for locals and way less crowded. Honestly, one of my favorite beaches on the island, hands down. Just be sure to lock your car and take any valuables with you as car break-ins have happened before.
My all-time favorite beach, though, is the Halona Beach Cove. Part of Pirates of the Caribbean was filmed here and for a good reason. The beach itself is so gorgeous, fairly private, and small with places you can cliff jump. You also get to see the blow hole!
Where to Hike
One of my favorite things to do in Hawaii is to hike and there are so many great places to do so. Each trail is so different and the views are always breathtaking. Some of my favorite hikes we did were:
The Pillbox Trail is one of the easiest hikes, taking about 15 minutes to hike up, and the view of the pillboxes and Lanikai Beach is amazing. I recommend hiking early in the morning and bringing a little snack with you to eat at the top.
The Mini Crouching Lion is a bit trickier. The official Crouching Lion is about 4 miles and as we tried to squeeze in so many activities into our days, we decided to do the shorter hike instead. This hike is about 2 hours from start to finish and is a little more difficult, so if you’re a beginner, just take it slow and you should be fine. Once you reach the top, you’ll see a large rock which gives the trail it’s name “Crouching Lion.” The view is very rewarding and definitely worth the climb. After, you can cross the road and see this gorgeous beach swing and beach with a leaning palm tree!
There is also the infamous Moana Falls. This trail is super easy and tends to be very crowded, but once you reach the end, you’ll find a gorgeous waterfall where you can take pictures at.
Unfortunately the Stairway to Heaven is closed and fines have been getting really expensive ($2,000!) if you get caught up there. I know that there is an unofficial hike around the back, where you can still make it to the top of the stairs, but I’m not sure how to get there.
What to Do
We did a few different activities around the island and while my family and I aren’t really into the touristy excursions, we felt we saw more than we normally would if we had booked them. Below are some ideas that I greatly recommend (and will also save you money because they aren’t super touristy).
Lyon Arboretum Botanical Garden is absolutely gorgeous. My brother wanted to show us around here and I’m so happy that he did. The Harold L. Lyon Arboretum is a 200-acre arboretum and botanical garden managed by the University of Hawaii at Mānoa located at the upper end of Mānoa Valley in Hawaii. Much of the Arboretum’s botanical collection consists of an artificial lowland tropical rain forest with numerous trails and small water falls.
Valley of the Temples is a memorial park located at the foot of the Koʻolau mountains, near the town of Kāneʻohe. Inside lies the Byodo-In temple. The Byodo-In Temple that was dedicated in August of 1968 to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the first Japanese immigrants to Hawaii. It is a must-see when visiting Oahu. It’s so tranquil and one of the most gorgeous places I’ve ever seen. Also, be sure to visit the Bon-sho (sacred bell). The bell is customarily rung before you enter the temple to spread the teachings of Buddha. Ringing the bell has been said to bring you happiness, blessings, and a long life.
Boat tour with Morgan Halas. I found Morgan through a blog called HBGoodie where she says to find Morgan through Instagram (@morganhalas). Morgan is a local who takes people out on his personal boat for private tours of the island that you wouldn’t normally see on a touristy boat tour. He’s also fairly inexpensive and you can bring your own food and drink. The tour lasts about 4 hours and you get to see the sand bar, Secret Island, and Chinaman’s Hat. Unfortunately due to weather, we had to cancel, but next time we go it’s a must-do!
Of course if you’re going to Oahu, visiting Pearl Harbor is a great way to learn about some tragic American history. Gavin and I went the first time we were there, so I passed on it this time. The memorial is beautiful though and a great way to pay tribute to those that fought or lost their lives that day.
Visit the macadamia nuts at Tropical Farms in Kaneohe. They have so many different flavors and to be honest, all of them taste great! Also, if you meet Chief, tell him I said hi and ask to try some “jungle juice.” 🙂
When heading to to hike the Koko Crater stairs you take a left from Kalanianaole Highway onto Lunalilo Home Road. Not only will you be driving into a residential area that consists of very rich residents and beautiful homes, but you’ll also be en route to a tiny treasure tucked away in Hawaii Kai. China Walls is where many locals go to cliff jump, which is exactly what we did.
Scooter around Waikiki! This is so much fun and a really great way to explore the area. There are so many rental companies so it’s pretty easy to find one. Just be careful with traffic. Waikiki is a fairly busy city and it could get a bit rough on the roads.
Where to Eat
I love to eat, and quite frankly, who doesn’t? As a blogger I feel like you become a foodie as well through researching “instagrammable” places to eat. That being said, I’m not someone that only goes somewhere for the ambiance – I want the food to be just as good. This can be difficult sometimes, but in Hawaii there are so many great places to eat, that finding a good one wasn’t hard at all. Here is a list of my favorite food places on Oahu:
Uahi Island Grill opened in 2007 and serves delicious, fresh island food along with plate lunches & Sunday brunch in a cozy, casual setting. They now own and operate a food truck and have moved into a much larger location with a full bar and outdoor seating. They were also made “famous” by being featured on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives with Guy Fieri.
Sansei is a super fun and delicious Japanese restaurant with a great happy hour and weekend karaoke. My family had such a great time here and would definitely recommend it to anyone staying in Waikiki.
Arvo is one of the yummiest breakfast places in Honolulu and serves up some of the best avocado toast I’ve ever had. They also have a matcha chia bowl that’s to-die-for if you’re a matcha lover. I thought the prices were great for the amount of food that you got and one of the other perks was the coffee art! I got mine with some palm trees!
North Shore Tacos has some if not thee best tacos on the island. I got the fish tacos with surf sauce. My brother swears by them and says he eats there 3-4 times a week! I also recommend getting their Dole Pineapple smoothie – soooo refreshing!
Sunrise Shack is a must when driving up to the North Shore. Not only is it “instagrammable” but the food is so fresh and so yummy. Food shakes are perfect for my family who’s always on-the-go since we can just grab some delicious food on the way to where we’re going!
Barefoot Beach Cafe was another quick breakfast place close to where we were staying. I ordered the Queen’s Bagel and Sunrise Smoothie when we went.
Uncle Bo’s was a place my brother begged to take us. It’s a local favorite and the food was so very good. They have two locations, one in Waikiki and one in Haleiwa, with both menus being very similar. They serve classic pupu’s (or Hawaiian appetizers/small plates) as well as having a full menu with something for everyone.
If you’re looking for a yummy rooftop restaurant in Waikiki, Buho is the way to go. They serve delicious Mexican food with locally sourced and fresh products. They also serve up a great cocktail. Definitely recommend this place for dinner.
Surfer, The Bar is the local watering hole at the Turtle Bay resort. My brother recently turned 21 years old, so it was a great place for us to grab a drink together. We ended up BBQing that night and not eating there, but they have a bar menu as well if you’re hungry!
It’s not a trip to Hawaii without having dinner at Roy’s. I know it’s a chain restaurant and while I usually shy away from chains, the food is just too good to pass up. And being a chain restaurant means they’re doing something right…right? Anyways, the food is amazing here and it was the perfect restaurant for our last night in town. (Photo above was from our first trip here on my birthday!)
For lunch one day we enjoyed a quick bite at Kalapawai Cafe in Kailua. You could tell that the food was fresh and the best part was that we got outdoor seating on the patio with the roosters!
Well this is my more up-to-date Oahu, Hawaii guide for ya, and as always please leave any questions for me in the comments! I love Oahu and Hawaii and I hope that if you haven’t been before, you make the trip out! Mahalo!